Country, Date of election
Czech Republic 1998
Tereza Hradílková has created a comprehensive program for families with blind children or children with multiple disabilities. Her family based method is a dramatic departure from the traditional expert driven, institutionalized care of such children in Czech Republic.
The system of care for people with disabilities in the socialist Czechoslovakia was segregated and depersonalized,. Parents of children with disabilities were advised by doctors to give up raising their own children and place them into residential care or boarding schools. Experts and collective state institutions thus took over the responsibility for the upbringing and care of people with disabilities. Children were growing up in an unnatural environment with few incentives for personal development. Parents were losing their competences, parental responsibility and confidence. Those parents who decided to raise their child at home lacked support from the state and their environment. And after the fall of communism, the Czech Republic remained on top in the number of disabled people in residential care and divided society.
The system of early intervention became embedded in the Czech Republic and today there are 46 centers that provide early intervention for families of children with all types of disabilities. In 25 years of its existence Tereza’s organization alone (today 9 workplaces, 120 workers) has accompanied about 18 000 families. Thanks to Terezie’s support similar organizations emerged in the Slovak republic, Turkey and Bulgaria. Early intervention is taught at Czech colleges and universities. Doctors and social workers see its value and take it more seriously. Terezie’s definition of early intervention became part of the law on social services 108/2006 (§34), and is co-funded at the state and regional level. Private funders start to provide more support to this topic as well. Terezie also initiated professional organization of workers and volunteers of early intervention. Public recognition of early intervention has increased. Very important is also that parents of children with disabilities have become more self-confident and can now effectively communicate and collaborate with early intervention teams.
Terezie created a system providing comprehensive support to parents of disabled children living all across the country, which triggered the creation of a whole new field of social services in the Czech Republic. Instead of criticizing the existing dysfunctional system, Terezie focused on empowering parents to take up the initiative and on interconnecting professionals from adjacent fields.. In order for an emerging system to succeed Terezie concurrently worked in several directions – introduced new services, drafted legislative proposals, educated professionals, empowered parents and raised public awareness about the topic. After the early intervention became a social service recognized by state and legislation and funded from public sources, Terezie focused on scaling her innovation to reach more people using the “incubators” in which established centres of early intervention could support emerging centers with experience sharing, supervision, quality control and training.
Terezie’s vision is that families with children with disabilities have specialized, professional, local and informal support coming from their surrounding. Parents have a chance to enjoy their parenthood, bring their child up responsibly and confidently as a part of family and community. At the same time broader community (neighbours, teachers, classmates, colleagues, clerks, drivers of trams) perceive people with disabilities as an inseparable part of society and are aware of the harmful effects of collective, formalized and impersonal care in segregated institutions.
The driving force behind all Terezie’s activities has always been her feeling of personal responsibility for the future of hers and other children, feeling of responsibility for the development of civic life, conviction that rights and freedoms are indivisible. “Maybe it’s exactly the mothers with small children who think of future in a way so that they don’t have to be ashamed in front of their children later on” (Natalia Gorbanevskaya). Tereza was also motivated by ordinary things and is well aware that children (also with disabilities) need love and joy of parents, all people (also with disabilities) have their value and are happy to be around other people, and at the same time these ordinary “human things” are often denied to people with disabilities.